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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 14

 

 

Introduction

Clean and Unclean (Leviticus 11:1 to Leviticus 15:33).

The priesthood having been informed of their responsibility to discern between what was ritually clean and what was ritually unclean (Leviticus 10:10), five chapters now deal with the question in order to provide them with guidance (compare Ezekiel 22:26 for their later failure to do this). The question of clean and unclean brings out Israel’s world view, and stresses the difference between walking with God, and enjoying life and enjoying what is pure, in other words what is ‘clean’, and grovelling in what is ‘unclean’, with its connections with impurity and death, urging men to the former away from the latter.

In order to appreciate the significance of this we need first to recognise what precisely is involved. The purpose behind the idea of cleanness and uncleanness is not mainly hygiene or moral uncleanness. Rather it emphasises in a general way the holiness and perfection of God, and our need to escape from and avoid and rise above degradation and death. We have already seen that sacrifices and offerings are to be ‘perfect’ or ‘without blemish’. This is a pointer to the concept involved. In emphasising what is clean and unclean God seeks only what is totally ‘perfect’, what is wholly right, for Himself and for His people. What is clean is best. What is not clean is not best.

But we must not confuse holiness and ‘cleanness’. Holiness goes much further than cleanness. Things can be clean and not holy. And there are degrees of holiness within the area where all is ‘clean’. For holiness is to do with what God is, and what man’s attitude towards Him is, while cleanness has to do with what man is and with his attitude to his environment. This clearly impinges on holiness, but it is looking at it from a very different angle.

In order to be ‘holy’ enough to enter the tabernacle court men needed to be ritually ‘clean’, but being clean did not render them ‘most holy’. Yet the constant awareness of the need to avoid what was ‘unclean’ in God’s eyes did bring God’s Law very much into the daily lives of the common man. This included both its moral and its ritual requirements. It constantly made them think of what was for their good in accordance with God’s commands, what was ‘clean’, what was wholesome for those who were holy. But there can be no doubt that God also used these distinctions in order to keep them healthy, to let them see that in the uncleanness and decay of much of nature lay unknown dangers, to test their obedience, and to remind them constantly of His holiness.

There are also grounds for recognising that some of the living creatures which were unclean were seen as such because of their connections with various gods, although this may simply be because in their worship men regularly seek what is low. This would tie in with the general principle of perfection and wellbeing. While it is argued that in that case the bull ox would also have been unclean due to its prominence in the Baal religion, the answer to that might simply be that the bull ox had been recognised as clean for so long that it countered any other interpretation.

With, for example, the pig, which was revered and feared in religions elsewhere, the position was different. The black pig was taboo to worshippers of Horus in Egypt because Seth as a black pig had once blinded him. In certain Hittite rituals a pig was slaughtered in order to protect the sacrificers from evil curses. And pigs were associated with certain Syrian-Canaanite cults. This, even if not suggesting it, would certainly have helped to confirm the pig’s uncleanness. And ‘creeping things’ were undoubtedly connected with idolatry in Ezekiel 8:10. But nothing of this is even hinted at in either Leviticus or Deuteronomy so that we can only see it as of subsidiary significance.

The Law depicts Yahweh as supremely holy, that is uniquely ‘set apart’ as One Who is wholly good, wholly righteous, uniquely powerful, and then reveals grades of descent from God’s holiness and perfection into spheres of lesser and lesser holiness (‘set apartness’). This is because man could not fully cope with the full holiness of God.

On the one hand therefore the Law is very much designed to bring out God’s uniqueness and extreme holiness, together with the Priest’s and Israel’s special position before Him, but on the other it reveals intermediate levels of holiness until it comes down to where uncleanness intervenes and then goes on to the other extreme of ‘uncleanness’ which is to do with death and extreme impurity.

God is the living God, and, for Him, to be holy is to be supremely alive and pure. For man to become fully holy would be to become wholly alive and pure, and not only free from all the claims of death, but living positively to the full. For man to miss out on that, even by a fraction, would be to miss out on the very best. But man is far from that. He is weak and failing and that best is so far beyond him that it could only be a distant hope to be brought about by the grace of God. God therefore begins to lead him in ways that will enable him one day eventually, step by step, to understand that best, and this was indeed stated to be the purpose of the Law. It was that man might finally find true life (Leviticus 18:5).

This was to be revealed to him in two ways. Firstly by his coming to appreciate the full holiness of God, an awareness of God’s environment, and of His righteousness and purity (see Isaiah 57:15), and secondly by being made aware of what is wholly clean, what is best and most ‘perfect’ in man’s environment. Thus would his mind be turned towards God. With that in mind let us first consider the levels of holiness.

The Levels of Holiness.

1). There is what is supremely holy, the very ‘Holy of Holies’ (the Most Holy, the Holiest of All) itself, the throne room of the living God, remote from man in the tabernacle, inaccessible to any but the High Priest and he only once a year after complicated rituals of preparation which had made him especially holy. There God had at times revealed something of His glory.

It is the highest level attainable for those on earth, and then was only attainable by the High Priest once a year, and that only for a short while. But it is where Christ has now entered for us, and He has made a way open for us, so that we are so privileged that we may enter the Holiest in Him (Hebrews 10:19). This is the level which we should be enjoying in our fellowship with Him. It requires total commitment and full absorption in God, but for most it is only attained in its fullness at rare times. We may glibly speak of entry into the Holiest. But until we really become aware of the glory and holiness of God we have not really entered. Jesus Christ has made it possible, but like the children of Israel with Moses we ask that His face be veiled. For to see His face would take up too much of our lives.

2). Then there is the next level, what is extremely holy, the Holy Place and what is involved with it, so holy that nothing that pertains to it may remain in the camp outside the Holy Place, except temporarily. It has to be burned in a clean place outside the camp This includes the remains of the purification for sin offerings for priests and for the whole congregation, whose blood is brought into the Holy Place. Only the priests may enter or deal with such matters, and that only when they are ‘clean’ (a basic requirement), when on duty and properly attired, and having washed hands and feet with water to remove even the earthiness of the courtyard, and of things that they have touched. Any part of those offerings is extremely holy. Such extremely holy things must not remain within the Sanctuary precincts nor in the camp. What remains after making the offering must be burned with fire in a clean place outside the camp in order to go to God.

This is a slightly lower level of holiness from that of supreme holiness, enjoyed only by the priests, when they daily trimmed the lamps and offered incense on the altar of incense. But we being made priests in Christ have it opened up to us. It is enjoyed by those whose lives are genuinely fully committed, who walking before Him and in His sight trim the lamps of witness, testimony, and good works (Matthew 5:16), who offer the daily incense of praise and thanksgiving, but have not yet, or only at times, attained the higher level. But they do choose to live totally and completely as priests to God and on behalf of men, revealing it in witness, intercession, prayer, worship and thanksgiving, committing themselves to God as a living sacrifice, and seeking to be wholly acceptable to God. They live in the Holy Place.

3). Then there is what is ‘most holy’. It is not so holy that it is confined to the Holy Place, but it so holy that it must not leave the Sanctuary precincts or be touched by any but the priests. This includes all offerings and sacrifices, once offered, apart from the meat of peace/wellbeing sacrifices, but especially refers to the portions that the priests, and they alone may eat, meat from purification for sin offerings (Leviticus 6:29) and grain from grain offerings (Leviticus 2:10). If anyone apart from a priest touches them that person becomes ‘holy’ and thus subject to the restrictions of priests without actually attaining office (Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 6:27).

In these days this lower level is attained by those who are set apart in Christ in holiness, who truly serve Him, but who have not yet reached the level of faith of living always in the presence of God. Their faith and dedication needs an upward lift.

4). Then there is what is ‘holy’, but is not so holy that it is not allowed to leave the Sanctuary precincts, for the camp also is holy, although not always fully clean. These holy things may be dealt with in a clean place within the camp. They include the priests’ portions of peace sacrifices, and the flesh of the peace sacrifices returned to the offerer, which must be eaten in a clean place and not by anyone while unclean. They are therefore more holy than the camp.

This is the level of the average Christian who walks with God, seeks to avoid uncleanness and the desires of the flesh, but whose commitment and dedication is not sufficiently full to enjoy the higher blessings.

Up to this point all this holiness has been free from any taint of uncleanness, for participation has only been allowed by those who are ‘clean’. In a sense the camp is the last stage of holiness and is the place where distinctions between clean and unclean begin to impinge. For this is where God’s holy people confront what is less than wholesome, what is less than ‘perfect’, what may come short in one way or another of contributing to their wellbeing.

5). The camp of Israel is holy (Deuteronomy 23:14), but it is of an even lesser holiness than the clean places within the camp, for those who are mildly unclean may remain in it in their tents, and the part in which they are is then unclean until they themselves are clean. And in the same way the nation of Israel, and all who join it within the covenant by circumcision, are holy (Exodus 19:6), for they are God’s covenant people, and yet they may be temporarily unclean. However because they are holy they must seek not to defile themselves by disobedience and by contact with what is unclean, and take whatever precautions are necessary to deal with uncleanness and prevent it affecting the holy. While unclean they are not so holy that they can come in direct contact with the holiness of God.

This is the level of the low level Christian who is satisfied to honour Christ but is also seeking to enjoy life in general and does not want to be too restricted. He wants to be allowed his periods of ‘uncleanness’. He is an ‘also ran’.

6). Then there is outside the camp of Israel. This is not holy, but it is more complicated for it is divided into the clean and the unclean. Firstly there are (undefined) ‘clean places’ (Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 6:11) where what is extremely holy may be burned and where the ashes from the altar of burnt offering may be deposited. Secondly there are places which cannot be unclean, for men can go there without becoming unclean, and clean animals rove there without becoming unclean. But as with the camp unclean things impinge there. Thirdly there are places which are unclean because unclean people, non-Israelites, live there who do not observe the rules of cleanness and uncleanness. Fourthly there are places which are unclean because they are the haunts of what is unclean. There there is much which is unclean, with which even indirect contact must be avoided. And fifthly there are unclean and defiled places (Leviticus 14:40-41; Leviticus 14:45) where death and uncleannesses must be put and must remain. Man’s excrement, for example, must be put in a designated special place outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:13-14 compare Leviticus 5:3) and must be buried there, as must the building materials of buildings condemned for certain fungi and rotting (Leviticus 14:40; Leviticus 14:45). We are not given details of these places, only their function. It may be that they were simply designated areas for refuse.

On the whole the inhabited world outside ‘the camp’ and outside later ‘Israel’, was probably seen as unholy, and as largely ‘unclean’, except possibly for the land suitable for grazing, arable land and pasture in the wilderness (not, of course, too strictly defined), for even in generally unclean lands, these were presumably seen as mildly clean, otherwise clean wild animals would become unclean.

But the ground was cursed in Genesis 3:17, and the snake was cursed ‘above all cattle and above every beast of the field’, and sentenced to grovel in the dirt, to ‘eat the dust’ (Genesis 3:14), a phrase which at a minimum indicated something totally low, ignominious and unpleasant. And this ground would only yield man his food after great and laborious effort. He would have to restore it to usefulness. It had become his adversary. And the dust was what man would return to (Genesis 3:19), it was the dust of lifelessness and death above which man had been raised, but only for a time. He would return to it in death. Thus what lived in the dust of the ground was unclean.

This ties in with chapter 11 here for a separation was made in Genesis 1-3 along similar lines to here, between animals both wild and domestic, and the other land creatures, and creeping things which grovelled in the dust, which thus became unclean, together with the birds of the air and the fish of the sea (Genesis 1:20-21; Genesis 1:24-25; Genesis 1:29-30). The intention was that all would eat vegetation or ‘green herbs’ (Genesis 1:30). It would seem that that was seen as the ideal and that those that began to subsist on other things become ‘unclean’, although later man’s right to eat of animals is confirmed (Genesis 9:3), but he would be expected to use discernment.

In Genesis 2:19-20 it is only the cattle, the wild beasts and the birds which are seen as within man’s domain, and in Genesis 3:14 we come across ‘cattle’, ‘beasts of the countryside’ and a reptile, the latter despatched to lurk in the dust as a punishment. It should not therefore surprise us if animals which nuzzle in the dust, and reptiles and creatures that live in the dust and never rise above it are seen as especially unclean, and even more ‘creeping things’, for the dust is what man who dies will return to. It is the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). To ‘cleave to the dust’ was considered to be the same as dying (Psalms 119:25). It was a world of death. And while the curse was partly relieved by God’s covenant with Noah as far as man was concerned (Genesis 9:21), which might explain why grazing land and arable land could be seen as ‘clean’, it certainly did not remove the whole curse. Thorns and thistles are still man’s bain. The earth is still man’s adversary and seeks ever to return to the wild or to desert. And all this was closely linked with death (Genesis 3:19; Genesis 5:5), which was the final sentence.

The same distinctions are mainly found in the story of the flood (Genesis 7:8; Genesis 7:14; Genesis 7:21; Genesis 7:23; Genesis 8:19), but there we are introduced to clean and unclean animals and birds, only the clean of which can be sacrificed (Leviticus 7:2; Leviticus 8:20).

It is possible that the ‘clean places’ as in Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 6:11 are those where it is considered that death does not usually take place and where man’s and animal’s uncleanness would not have reached, thus remote almost inaccessible spots, but they are never defined specifically, and it may be that they were places especially set aside and cleansed, (although if this is so it is never mentioned). But the fact that there could be these ‘clean places’ suggests that the created world was originally seen as fundamentally clean, (God saw that it was good), but as having been largely defiled by death and uncleanness, that which is related to opposition to God.

But in terms of living things only Israel, and those who worship Yahweh, are now holy and that because cleansed by God, while certain animal, birds and fish are ‘clean’, and can therefore be eaten, but they are not spoken of as holy. To be holy is to be in a relationship with God, or to be God’s special possession.

We could see ‘outside the camp’ as largely signifying the level of those who are not in Christ. Some are relatively ‘cleaner’ than others, but none are in the camp and holy to God.

Connected with these degrees of holiness that we have described therefore, and at the bottom end, we must fit in the ideas of what is ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. These things affect holiness but are not the same thing. They are to do with man’s contact with the world through his body. Nothing of this uncleanness is ever to be brought into contact with the tabernacle. To do so deliberately would be to warrant death. If discovered as occurring unwittingly it will require guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:2-3).

And while mild uncleanness is allowed in the camp, the camp too must be kept separate from it, and the aim is always to be rid of any such uncleanness as quickly as feasible. Meanwhile it must be contained within the tent, and by avoiding contact with others.

It should be noted that something can be clean but not holy. But it cannot be unclean and holy. This is especially so with regard to food. Food that is unclean must be abhorred by Israel. It will defile the holiness of any of the people involved with it. It will make them less whole and pure. Thus it is necessary to distinguish between clean and unclean foods. But certain animals are seen as ‘clean’ wherever they are, unless they have been defiled in some way. Thus to be ‘clean’ is not the same thing as to be holy. However the converse is true, what is ‘unclean’ is not holy, and at least to some extent defiles holiness.

And at the bottom end of uncleanness are things that defile the land, murder, adultery, idolatry and so on (Leviticus 18:6-27; Leviticus 20:2-22). These are the extremes of ‘uncleanness’. Those who do such things must be cut off. Their end is death, for death is the final end of uncleanness. So if their bodies are hung on a tree in order to disgrace them, they are not to stay there overnight, for it would render the land unclean because they are accursed by God. Thus they must be buried (Deuteronomy 21:23). It was for such uncleannesses that Israel would be finally expelled from the land (Leviticus 18:25).

So cleanness and uncleanness refer to men’s relationship to themselves and to the world, and how they react to the world, although they do also affect their position before God. And as will be seen there are certain basic rules regarding the cleanness of living things, and they have a certain logic to them. If fully followed out they would undoubtedly have contributed to human health, but that, at least humanly speaking, would not be seen as their main purpose, and it does not mean that all unclean things are always physically unhealthy for humans, only that they would be ill advised to partake of them because of how often they are. But the main reson why they must not eat of them is because God has not appointed them for men. Abstaining from them is a sign of being God’s men and women.

Men like Moses may well have learned certain basic medical rules from observation. But a detailed individual diet list giving individual ‘clean’ items would have been neither wise or practical, and would have been observed more in the breach than in the fulfilment, and one is not given. Nor was this the main purpose of establishing things as clean, although from a health point of view there is no doubt that avoiding unclean things would have contributed to good health.

The real significance of cleanness and uncleanness was with regard to ‘perfection’ and ‘imperfection’, to ‘wholeness’ and ‘unwholeness’, to making men ritually ‘without blemish’. The aim was to keep God’s people involved only with what was ‘perfect’, with what was pleasing to God, and this would result in their being ritually and morally clean as they lived to do His will, rising above what was most unpleasant in the world. It meant avoiding all that was unclean in any way, however seemingly desirable, and, when they fell short it, involved their going through the necessary process for the removal of that uncleanness. For what was unclean was in general harmful, and would remove them from the state of wholeness that should be theirs, so that if possible the situation had to be rectified. If it was not rectified they would be removed from the camp, for anything other than temporary uncleanness would defile the camp and make it unholy.

We have already observed the constant necessity for the removal of sin, and of all breaches of the covenant, which was a special kind of unholiness to do with ritual and moral failure. We now see the requirement also to be ‘clean’ in everything in relationship with creation.

To summarise we may consider the various levels of humanity (if we leave Moses out of account who was unique). There is first the High Priest, then the priests, then the blemished priests. The first can enter the Holy of Holies, the second the Holy Place and the third can partake of what is most holy, but cannot enter the Holy Place. These in descending order can deal with ‘most holy’ things as long as they are ‘clean’. Then come the people when clean, allowed into the tabernacle court, then the people when temporarily unclean, and not allowed,while unclean, in the tabernacle court, and then the people who are blemished who cannot enter the tabernacle court. But all these may remain in the camp. Then come the people unclean and excluded from the camp but kept within range, for whom worship can be conducted and offerings made. And then finally come outsiders not connected with the camp. All these described are as a whole split into clean and unclean. Any of these who are rendered unclean, even the High Priest, must not enter the Sanctuary precincts while unclean. None who are blemished may ever do so. Although they, and ‘strangers’, may offer sacrifices and offerings. They are not excluded from God (Numbers 15:14; Numbers 15:16). Only the High Priest and the unblemished priests may enter the Holy Place as long as they are ‘clean’. Only the ritually ‘clean’ may enter the tabernacle court. But in all cases, from highest to lowest, all approaches are only through offerings and sacrifices. To be clean was not to be sinless.

One important lesson we should learn from all this is that God is not to be approached lightly. Those who would know Him fully must recognise His purity and truth and come to Him in purity and truth, and must therefore recognise and acknowledge their need for cleansing, for atonement and forgiveness, and for cleanness of life from all that is unclean. The exclusion of the blemished (what is not perfect) is not intended as a slight on them, but as a reminder of the supremely perfect and unblemishes being of God.

As we go through the laws of uncleanness we will discover a pattern based on the first five chapters of Genesis. The tradition behind Genesis was Scripture for the people of Israel under Moses. It dealt with the roots of life, leading up to the promises given to Abraham. In Genesis 1 the world was created, and with it all living creatures. In Genesis 2 God prepared man’s dwelling place on earth, and set him over all cattle, wild beasts and birds. And he walked naked, authoritative and tall, and was not ashamed. But what crept on the ground was not said to be submissive to him. And in Genesis 3 this was evidenced when mankind fell into sin, deceived by the serpent, and the serpent was cursed and was sentenced to the dust, and the woman who first sinned was punished in the very thing that was dearest to her, the ability to conceive, and the ground which produced man’s food was cursed.

So we have in descending order, God, man, animals and birds, creeping things of the ground, the latter outside man’s control.

From now on man had to be clothed, and God made for him suitable clothing. Then man was sentenced to be cast from the Garden, excluded from the place where God had walked with him. He was unclean. He would no longer be ‘in the camp’, but was cast out, and the world would abundantly produce thorns and thistles to hinder his labours. This was when he was first introduced to clothing to hide his nakedness.

But then came a new beginning, when man triumphed and was restored into fellowship with God as Abel offered his ‘gifts’ to Him. Man could once more enjoy God’s blessing. But Cain slew Abel and then went away and built the first houses in his ‘city’, and his line was built up as a result of their sexual responses. Meanwhile godly man began to ‘call on the name of Yahweh’, and thus in chapter 5 we have the line of men who were born, and lived and died, again the result of sexual responses, both good and bad.

It is surely not a coincidence that the laws of uncleanness follow this pattern. Leviticus 11 connects with Genesis 1-3. Leviticus 12 connects with the punishment of the woman in Genesis 3:16. Leviticus 13:1-46 connects with the casting out of the man from the Garden in Genesis 3:17-19 with Genesis 3:23-24. Leviticus 13:47-59 connects with God’s provision of their first clothing in Genesis 3:21. Leviticus 14:1-32 connects with the restoration of fellowship and the new beginning in Genesis 4, and Leviticus 14:33-53 connects with ‘the building of a city’ on arrival in the land also as in Genesis 4:17. And finally Leviticus 15 deals with the means of reproduction and the organs of reproduction as illustrated in Genesis 4:18 and Genesis 5:1-32). We might then see Leviticus 16, with its emphasis on the great Day of Atonement, which gave Israel a new beginning every year, as reflected in the story of the Flood when God decided to make a new beginning, and enabled man to begin again, by sacrificing clean animals and birds on an altar. He gave them a new start, as He would now give Israel one, once a year.

So with all this in mind let us now consider this chapter, which deals with what food is clean and may therefore be freely enjoyed by the people, and will not make them unclean, and what is unclean and should be avoided for one reason or another. But one warning. The purpose of these restrictions was not in order to be a list of all harmless foods, although they certainly did prevent the eating of many harmful foods, nor was it in order to declare that what was unclean was necessarily bad in itself, it was in order to set apart His people from all others, and to lift them up from the squalor of the world and from the taint of death. It was to make them holy. It was in order to lift them above all that was degrading, and to keep them living before Him in purity, and in recognition that death and all connected with it is the very opposite of all that God is. It was to ensure their wellbeing and their wholesomeness. It was to keep them out of the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2).

Thus God’s aim is to keep His people from all that is unholy, that is, from all that is in general terms unlike Himself, all that was not created specifically for man’s benefit, and all that might be harmful either spiritually or physically, and it was especially to separate him from the taint of death.

In going into the world His people would inevitably occasionally become ‘unclean’, but provision was now made for the conscious removal of this uncleanness, and warnings given not to deliberately step beyond the bounds laid down. For disobedience is the ultimate uncleanness.

It will be noted in what follows that the creatures that are ‘clean’ are those that are (as seen by the Israelites) wholly grazing animals, still eaters of herbs (Genesis 1:30), and not predators (death-dealers) and blood-eaters; or are those that swim in the open water well away from the dirt and the mud; or are those that eat vegetation and leap and are not tied to crawl on the earth. Each keeps to its proper sphere. In no case therefore do they do lurk and crawl in dirt and filth, among the dust that the snake was to grovel in, and to which man, when he ceased to be man and became an empty shell with its breath withdrawn, would return. And to which the carcases of all beasts would return. That was the realm of death. This must be seen from a ‘common knowledge’ aspect, not as a naturalist. It is the basic ideas that are being conveyed.

There is an important lesson here for Christians. We too can enter the Holiest of All through the blood of Jesus. We too can gather together to worship in holiness, having a ‘rarified’ time. But we too cannot enter God’s presence until cleansed. We too have to go out into the world and must choose between what is wholesome and what is degraded, and must avoid what is degrading and choose the wholesome. This is all a warning to us to discern between what is spiritually clean and what is spiritually unclean (2 Corinthians 7:1), although not necessarily in the terms laid out in what follows. For as Jesus pointed out, it is what is in the heart of man that is really unclean (Mark 7:18-23). And for us too the depths of uncleanness is murder, adultery and idolatry.

Chapter 14 The Day of Deliverance.

Leviticus 13 left the skin diseased people in total despair. The unclean persons who had the suspicious skin disease were cast out of the camp with seemingly no future hope ahead. And as they symbolised Israel in its sinful condition it might also have been seen as indicating that there was no hope for Israel. But things could not be allowed to go on like that. It was true that Adam and Eve were similarly cast out of the Garden, but that was not the end. We soon find Abel offering tribute to Yahweh, a tribute which is graciously accepted and responded to (Genesis 4:4). And then in Genesis 4:26 we are told that men began to call on the name of Yahweh. It is clear that God had not turned away from man and that there was in this some kind of reconciliation, as there had been with the coats of skins for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). There was a new beginning.

So here also in Leviticus 14 therefore we have an indication of the possibility of restoration and full cleansing, purification and atonement, although only for the minority. Being cast out was not necessarily the end. For many there could be restoration, there could be a return to the favour of God. There could be a new beginning.

But that would all depend on the suspicious skin disease being healed. This would in fact probably seem to happen many times in different individuals because of wrong diagnosis, or because the skin disease was of such a type that healing took place naturally. But that would not be how it would be seen. It would be seen as the unclean becoming clean again, the smitten being restored to God’s favour. They knew that God could choose to wound, and He could choose to heal (Deuteronomy 32:39), and many would have cried for healing both for themselves and for their loved ones, (compare Psalms 41:4; Psalms 103:3-4), and now they saw their beloved one healed, and they would rejoice in God’s goodness and deliverance.

The prophets had a similar vision for Israel. Israel was like someone desperately ill and polluted (Isaiah 1:5-6; Isaiah 9:13; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 5:3; compare Psalms 38:3) but one day Yahweh would bring about their healing (Isaiah 57:17-19; Ezekiel 47:9; Jeremiah 8:22). Then they would rejoice indeed. And Jesus Himself spoke of the restoration to God of ‘the unclean’ (for that was how the Pharisees saw them) in terms of healing (Mark 2:17). In Christian terms Leviticus 13 portrays the suffering of the Servant, chapter 14 rejoices in His coming through His suffering and in His resurrection by which He offers healing and atonement to many.


Verse 1

The Return Of Some Who Were Smitten (Leviticus 14:1-32).

Leviticus 14:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

It is interesting that the law of the smitten in the day of his cleansing should be spoken to Moses alone (contrast Leviticus 13:1; Leviticus 14:33; Leviticus 15:1), for Moses was the deliverer of Israel. Aaron is involved with him in controlling the ritual of the cult, but Moses is the prophet of deliverance. Although in view of the general pattern of these headings in this section it may be that we must not read too much significance in it. However, had God not actually spoken this to Moses, had it been a later invention, it would be passing strange in context that Aaron was not mentioned as well.


Verses 2-20

The Law of The Skin-Diseased In The Day Of His Cleansing (Leviticus 14:2-20)

Leviticus 14:2-4

“This shall be the law of the skin-diseased in the day of his cleansing, He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go forth out of the camp, and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of suspicious skin disease be healed in the diseased person, then shall the priest command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop.”

The first point here is the expectancy that some would recover from their suspicious skin disease. In the mercy of God it was not necessarily to be seen as the end. And then the person could send a message to the priest claiming healing. He would have been living alone outside the camp, probably provided with assistance by friends and relatives, who would, however, beware of coming too close. But now they could be messengers of the joyous news. He was healed. His skin disease had subsided.

They would hasten to the priests who would send one of their number out of the camp to check out the true situation. We have an illustration of this in Mark 1:44 where Jesus told the leper whom He had healed to show himself to the priests and make his offerings as demanded in the Law of Moses.

The priest would approach the hopefully no longer diseased man and would examine him in accordance with the criteria laid down in the previous chapter, and if he was satisfied that the man was truly healed he would command the correct procedures to begin. ‘Then shall the priest command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop.’ This is the first stage in the process.

“This shall be the law of the skin-diseased in the day of his cleansing.” The procedures were strictly laid down. For this phrase compare Leviticus 11:46; Leviticus 12:7; Leviticus 13:59; Leviticus 14:32; Leviticus 14:54; Leviticus 14:57; Leviticus 15:32 also Leviticus 6:9 to Leviticus 7:37; Numbers 5:29; Numbers 6:13; Numbers 6:21; Numbers 19:14. We note that included in his cleansing are all the offerings described in detail in Leviticus 1-7. He is coming from the most appalling of conditions to total restoration by the grace of God. But first there is to be a unique ceremony.

Leviticus 14:5

“And the priest shall command to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water.”

Two ‘living clean birds’ had been called for and now one was to be killed in an earthen vessel in which there was water taken from a spring. The water was to be totally pure, ‘running water’, coming from unspoiled nature. The clean bird (it was not just any bird, which confirms its sacrificial intent) would be killed in such a way that the blood mingled with the water.

The killing was a type of sacrifice, almost certainly for atonement and purification, a preliminary type of purification for sin offering. It stresses that the man’s healing and cleansing and re-acceptance can only take place through the shedding of blood. It is not complete for it is not offered on the altar (which it could not be, for until this was done the man could not enter the camp). But it was the first stage before he could enter into the camp. He could not enter the camp without some purification through the shedding of blood.

Leviticus 14:6-7

“As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird which was killed over the running water, and he shall sprinkle on him who is to be cleansed from the suspicious skin disease seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let go the living bird into the open countryside,”

Then the living bird which remained, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet and the hyssop will be dipped in the blood of the bird which was killed over running water, and the blood of the dead bird would be sprinkled by means of the hyssop and the scarlet wool seven times over the man who was being cleansed.

Comparison with Leviticus 14:51 demonstrates that they are at the same time dipped in the water, for the blood and water will have mingled.

The sevenfold sprinkling was an indication of the total application of the blood (compare Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 4:17; Leviticus 8:11; Leviticus 16:19; Number 19:4), and was used only on very solemn occasions.

The hyssop was a plant that absorbed liquid and would be the main agent in the sprinkling. The cedar wood probably signified long and permanent life ahead, for the cedar was famed for its long life. It may also signify that he was ‘standing tall’, with his life now having again become valuable and useful. It is possible also that the hyssop was tied to it with the scarlet wool to make a ‘sprinkler’, but see Numbers 19:6 where it was an essential part of the ceremony. The scarlet was a reminder of the blood shed so that all could see that it was sprinkling blood. The living bird signified a new release, and the total removal of all the man’s past uncleanness away from the camp. Its release should be compared with Leviticus 16:21-22. It would thus seem to signify that the healed man’s sins which had been responsible for his disease, along with his disease, were now seen as despatched into ‘the open country’ so that he would no more be troubled with his disease. Now he could enter the camp, but he was still a long way from being able to come into the presence of Yahweh and become fully acceptable to Him.

Leviticus 14:8

“And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he shall come into the camp, but shall dwell outside his tent seven days.”

The man was then to remove all the earthiness and defilement of living outside the camp. He had to wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and thoroughly wash himself, before he could enter the camp. But even then he could not go to his own tent. He was not yet purified. He was still, as it were, ‘on probation’. It removed from him all outward uncleanness including that from contact with other skin diseased people. The benefits hygienically are quite clear, but to the priests and the Israelites it was only his first step towards being ‘cleansed’. He was not yet ‘clean’. It may be that this symbolised his first step in being reborn into Israel. Then he had to wait there for seven days.

We should note that the washing of himself comes last. We must not seize on that as the main picture, it is part of a whole. It is a total process of removal of all dirt, of all earthiness and hopefully of all transmittable ‘uncleanness’, ready for the coming process of cleansing.

Leviticus 14:9

“And it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off, and he shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.”

Then on the seventh day, after a divinely complete period in which he would no doubt be meditating on Yahweh’s deliverance, and rejoicing in the fact that he was once more in the holy camp of Israel, he had to shave all the hair of his head, and shave his beard and his eyebrows, all his hair. This was presumably so that it would be quite clear that no trace of disease remained. It may also have been because hair might have been seen as able to pass on uncleanness like the hyssop could pass on the blood. It was certainly hygienically sensible. Then he had to wash his clothes with water and wash himself, after which he would be ‘clean’, ready for the cleansing process. Clean here probably means again declared clean from his skin disease after examination (Leviticus 13:6; Leviticus 13:13; Leviticus 13:17 etc), for he has yet to be cleansed before Yahweh (Leviticus 14:11). Note again that his bathing is only a part of the process, and not the most important part. It is part of a total removal of dirt and earthiness and uncleanness.

We can compare how the new born babe has to wait seven days, before on the eighth day being circumcised (Leviticus 12:2-3). This man was also being reborn. He would be, as it were, ‘born again’ on the eighth day.

Leviticus 14:10

“And on the eighth day he shall take two he-lambs without blemish, and one ewe-lamb a year old without blemish, and three tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil.”

The greatness of his deliverance is expressed by the fact that he must bring all four offerings, a guilt offering, a purification for sin offering, a whole burnt offering and a grain offering, together with oil for anointing. These are made up of two he-lambs and a ewe lamb, all ‘perfect’ or without blemish, grain and oil. The grain offering is to be mingled with oil as usual, which suggests that it was to be offered along with the whole burnt offering (contrast Leviticus 5:11). The young age of the sacrifices stresses the new beginning (compare Leviticus 9:2-3).

Thus he requires the removal of specific guilt for any particular sin of which he may have been guilty, the purification for sin which will bring overall forgiveness and atonement, a rededication of himself in praise and thanksgiving and tribute to Yahweh, again accompanied by the making of atonement, and the offering of praise and gratitude for the fact that he would now once again receive God’s blessing in the receiving from God of grain and oil. He was again a whole man.

Leviticus 14:11

“And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed, and those things, before Yahweh, at the door of the tent of meeting.”

The priest who is performing the cleansing will then set the man and all his offerings ‘before Yahweh’ at the door of the tent of meeting, that is, they will be brought into the tabernacle court where the altar of burnt offering is. This was only made possible because of the offering of the birds eight days before.

Leviticus 14:12

“And the priest shall take one of the he-lambs, and offer him for a guilt offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave-offering before Yahweh,”

He then offers one of the he-lambs (young rams) as a guilt offering. This demonstrates quite clearly that in the mind of all and in the eyes of God his disease is linked with guilt for some particular sin, without necessarily defining it too closely. It may also be that he is admitting to the fact that while he has been cast out he has not been able to bring to Yahweh His dues (Leviticus 5:15-17). At the same time the ‘log’ (almost a pint, a little more than a litre) of oil is waved before Yahweh along with the flesh of the guilt offering. They are Yahweh’s.

“Offer him for a guilt offering.” We should note here that the methods previously described in Leviticus 1-7 were no doubt carried into effect here, before being followed by the special symbolism connected only with this ceremony.

Leviticus 14:13

“And he shall kill the he-lamb in the place where they kill the purification for sin offering and the whole burnt offering, in the place of the sanctuary. For as the purification for sin offering is the priest's, so is the guilt offering. It is most holy.”

The guilt offering is slain in the place where the purification for sin offering and the whole burnt offering would be slain, to the north of the altar, in the place of the sanctuary (Leviticus 1:11). It shares with them in its seriousness. For as with the purification for sin offering, its flesh belongs to the priest, it is most holy.

Leviticus 14:14

“And the priest shall take of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of the one who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot.”

We may probably presume that the blood is first applied to the side of the altar of burnt offering, and thrown at its base to make atonement (Leviticus 5:9). It is involved in the purification of a sinner. The blood of the guilt offering is then put on his extremities, the tip of his right ear, his right thumb and his right big toe. By this the whole of the newly received man is made once more fit to serve Yahweh, to hear His voice, to do His will and to walk in His ways. It is a new beginning.

Leviticus 14:15-16

“And the priest shall take of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand, and the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before Yahweh,”

A similar pattern is followed with the oil. It is poured by the priest into his left hand and then he dips his right finger in the oil and sprinkles it seven times before Yahweh. This is a presentation of the oil in a divinely perfect way for Yahweh to authenticate it for its use. It is directly connecting Yahweh with what is to follow.

Leviticus 14:17

“And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put on the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot, on the blood of the guilt offering,”

Then the rest of the oil is used to be put on the tip of the right ear, the right thumb and the right big toe which had previously had the blood of the guilt offering applied to them. Having been forgiven with regard to all his activities he is now set apart for Yahweh, the ear for hearing God’s will, the hand for doing God’s will and the toe for walking in God’s way. Anointing above all signifies being set apart to God. There are similarities between this ceremony and those of the setting apart to God of the High Priest and the priests (Leviticus 8).

The right hand and the right foot will have been seen as indicating a man’s supreme strength and ability. Most were right handed. The thumb and the toe were recognised as being essential to a man’s full ability. If you wanted to disable someone permanently you cut of his thumbs and his toes (Judges 1:6-7).

(While anointing is sometimes accompanied by the Holy Spirit it is not necessarily so. There is never any connection between oil and the Holy Spirit in the Pentateuch. nor is there any suggestion later that anointed priests received the Holy Spirit. Anointing represented being set apart to God for a holy purpose. It would necessarily result in the Holy Spirit coming on someone when it was necessary for the fulfilment of his anointed function but it was not seen as inevitable. Of course in this present age any anointing would be accompanied by the Holy Spirit precisely because this is the age of the Spirit).

Leviticus 14:18

“And the rest of the oil which is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, and the priest shall make atonement for him before Yahweh.”

Then what remains of the oil is poured on his head. He is now completely set apart in the whole of his being, from head to toe, even to his furthest extremity. After this the priest sets about making atonement for him.

Leviticus 14:19

“And the priest shall offer the purification for sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed because of his uncleanness, and afterwards he shall kill the whole burnt offering,”

For after this the purification for sin offering is offered, in order to make atonement for the one who is to be cleansed, ‘because of his uncleanness’. He is being purified from sin. This is then followed by the whole burnt offering.

Leviticus 14:20

“And the priest shall offer the whole burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar, and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”

The whole burnt offering and the grain offering are then also offered to make atonement. The whole is needed in order that the man might not only be cleansed and purified, but also atoned for completely. He is now back in full fellowship with God as one of His people, with his past wholly behind him, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. He is at one with God and with God’s people.

This whole vivid picture is a glorious illustration of the salvation of a sinner. It commences with his state as one who is sinful and defiled, diseased and disfigured by sin. One who is unclean and cast out. It illustrates that he can only come to God through the blood of Christ, and the all sufficiency of that blood, for Christ is slain bird, guilt offering, purification for sin offering and whole burnt offering all in one. Until that is applied he is not ‘clean’. The hyssop symbolises the fact that His blood must be applied to us by His hand, as we come for cleansing. The shaving and the washing symbolises that the whole of the old life must be put aside and replaced by ‘ceasing to do evil, learning to do well’ (Isaiah 1:16). The oil symbolises our being totally set apart to Him. The grain offering stresses that for those who become His life begins again, that they may once again rejoice in the grain and the oil. It also symbolises the fact that we who become His priests may partake of Him, as the priests partake of the guilt offering, the sin offering and the grain offering. The live bird stresses that our sins are carried away never to return. It may also be seen as a symbol of the everlasting life that we receive, as one side of the bird partnership dies and the other is released alive, signifying life and freedom through death. So do we see what our Saviour has accomplished for us when we were so unworthy.

There are other parallels also that we can see here. The priest went to the diseased person outside the camp. So did Jesus offer Himself for us outside the camp (Hebrews 13:10-13), that we may enter the true camp, not the camp of an earthly Israel but the ‘continuing city’ which is to come (Hebrews 13:14). The second parallel is that the whole of the cleansing and redeeming work was done by the priest. In the same way we recognise that in our sinfulness we can do nothing for ourselves, He must do all. Salvation is the work of Christ from start to finish.


Verses 21-32

There Is None Too Low That God Will Not Cleanse Them If They Come To Him (Leviticus 14:21-32).

But many a skin diseased cast-off would find it difficult to provide three animals for sacrifice together with the accompanying grain and oil, and for them God has provided a substitute offering which he may better be able to afford.

Leviticus 14:21-29

“And if he is poor, and cannot get so much, then he shall take one he-lamb for a guilt offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, and one tenth part of an ephah of fine flour mingled with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil, and two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, such as he is able to get, and the one shall be a purification for sin offering, and the other a whole burnt offering.”

If the person to be cleansed is poor then instead of two he-lambs and a ewe lamb he may offer one he-lamb and two turtle doves or two young pigeons. We note in this the centrality of the guilt offering. There can be no change there. The he-lamb for a guilt offering must be offered under any circumstance. The guilt of the sin that lay behind his condition must be dealt with at all costs, and it is a heavy guilt for there, in his case, even in his poverty, there can be no reduction in cost (contrast Leviticus 5:7-13). But the purification for sin offering and the whole burnt offering may be reduced to two clean birds, as with the normal whole burnt offering (1:14-17). Compare also Leviticus 12:8.

We are reminded by this that there was no alternative to the offering of the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), to the offering of the suffering Servant Who was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Significantly the latter was also a ‘plagued, afflicted and rejected person’ (Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:3-5), a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:8 compare 53:10). For Isaiah 53:8 literally ends with ‘for the transgression of My people He was plagued’.

Leviticus 14:23-29

“And on the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, to the door of the tent of meeting, before Yahweh, and the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering, and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave-offering before Yahweh, and he shall kill the lamb of the guilt offering, and the priest shall take of the blood of the guilt offering, and put it on the tip of the right ear of the one who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot. And the priest shall pour of the oil into the palm of his own left hand, and the priest shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil which is in his left hand seven times before Yahweh, and the priest shall put of the oil that is in his hand on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the great toe of his right foot, on the place of the blood of the guilt offering, and the rest of the oil which is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before Yahweh.”

Exactly the same procedure is followed with the guilt offering as was described in Leviticus 14:10-18, only slightly abbreviated.

Leviticus 14:30-31

“And he shall offer one of the turtle-doves, or of the young pigeons, such as he is able to get, even such as he is able to get, the one for a purification for sin offering, and the other for a whole burnt offering, with the grain offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him who is to be cleansed before Yahweh.”

But for the purification for sin offering and the whole burnt offering he can use ‘such as he is able to get’ which he offers with a grain offering in the form of two clean, sacrificial birds.

Leviticus 14:32

“This is the law of him in whom is the plague of a suspicious skin disease, who is not able to get that which pertains to his cleansing.”

And this particular aspect of the Law is for the one who is unable to get the full provision as previously laid down. It is equally a law in parallel with the others.


Verses 33-53

The Law Of Cleansing In Respect of a Plagued House (Leviticus 14:33-53).

Dealing with plagued garments was included after the descriptions with regard to discerning of the clean and the unclean with regard to skin diseases in 13:1-46, now dealing with plagued houses is dealt with after the descriptions of the restoration of the unclean who were healed of a skin disease. In the camp He plagued their clothes, in the land He would plague their houses.

Yet we saw in the first the first indication of hope, for the diseased person. With the garments some could be restored! Was it not then so with people? And this had indeed then led on to the description of the triumphant restoration of some of the skin diseased people.

Now we see in the second that if a whole house is diseased once they have come into the land, the whole must be destroyed. But on the other hand that in some cases, with drastic treatment, it might be restored. It would depend on the severity of the plague. It thus follows that if the whole of a man’s house is involved in evil, using the term in both senses of the word ‘house’, hope has gone, unless full restoration and rebuilding takes place.

The restoration of Israel was regularly spoken of in terms of a rebuilding (2 Samuel 7:13; Psalms 69:35; Psalms 102:16; Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 60:10; Isaiah 61:4; Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 33:7; Ezekiel 28:26; Amos 9:11; Amos 9:14), a theme continued in the New Testament. The house would have to be destroyed and rebuilt because it would become unclean.

In view of the early Genesis theme that runs through these laws on uncleanness we are probably to see in this house that was discovered to be unclean, a reminder of Cain who ‘built a city’ (Leviticus 4:17). Cities always tended to be seen as ‘unclean’, they were ever illustrative of rebellion against God, and the great cities were regularly used as examples of those totally depraved. If so this passage carries the message that even the plagued city can be made clean by a rooting out of uncleanness and a rebuilding under God.

But in this example there is an even deeper import. In all the previous descriptions there has been no suggestion that it was Yahweh Who had made the person or clothing diseased. But here God specifically says, ‘If I put the plague of mould in a house.’ There is here thus an indication that in the end this, and all plague, comes from God. It is He Who forms the light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates catastrophe (Isaiah 45:7) which is then followed by the assurance of abundant salvation resulting in righteousness (Isaiah 45:8). But as with the curse in the Garden it is not here depicted as being directed at man, although man cannot help being involved.

Thus there is here the delicately stated reminder that behind all that happens is God. The writer had not wanted to say that every skin-diseased person had been made so by God, as though they were worse than all others, but he does want us to recognise that in fact, that, along with all else, is in the last analysis from God. Nothing can happen without it being drawn in as part of His plan, and it all happens on the basis of the principles which God has established for the running of the world. He does not shy from bringing God into the equation.

Leviticus 14:33

“And Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

This message too comes to both Moses and Aaron, and is specifically from Yahweh. Firstly it contains the assurance that they will come into the land of Canaan which He will give them for a possession. This is so certain that He is already declaring what will be in that day. But it then contains the warning that when they do so come into possession of the land He will be watching over them in order to plague their houses if they are unfaithful to Him, as previously their clothes had been allowed to be plagued. Like the camp the land will be holy to God. But that means that all seen as deserving of the plague will have to be cast out.

(We note that God is not said to have plagued the clothing, but is said to have plagued the houses. Was this because God was seen as having provided the clothing for man, but man (like Cain) as having provided the houses? Because clothing was seen as ‘natural’ for man, but housing was not? That housing was rather seen as being in danger of being the beginnings of man’s rebellion as he gathered into cities).

Leviticus 14:34

“When you are come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of mould in a house of the land of your possession,”

In a way this is an astonishing statement. In the land to be given to them by God as a possession there will be plagued houses! And when this happens they are to recognise that He has done it. It is He who will have put the plague of mould into their houses. The message is that if they misuse what God gives them to possess, it will be taken away from them. Again it is not so much a case of individual sin, but of the sin of the whole (there is no suggestion of purification for sin and guilt offerings on the altar of burnt offerings). Each plagued house will be a reminder of the sin of the whole of Israel, and of what could happen to all.

Their houses would be of stone, mud-brick, timber and plaster (compare Amos 5:11) but in many cases would simply look like a small huddle; although the more wealthy had more sophisticated houses, mainly in the western quarter so as to escape the effect of the prevailing wind. Apart from the more sophisticated cities they would usually be crowded together without much planning, with the only space being the ‘square’ in front of the town gates, and possibly a ‘street’ running round the wall, which would also have houses built on it. The houses of the poor would comprise one room, with a small courtyard. Cooking, sleeping and storage would all occur within it, and domestic animal might be kept there. The larger houses would have a main room with surrounding small rooms.

Leviticus 14:35

“Then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, There seems to me to be as it were a plague in the house.”

Once a ‘plague’ is spotted in a house, whether it be mould, mildew or rot, or whatever, the owner must go to the priest, for if the house is ‘unclean’ it affects the holiness of all. It is thus a bounden duty. There will be a temptation not to do so. A house was then, as now, a valued property. It could even be all that they had, and they would not be sure of the outcome. It would not be insured!.

Leviticus 14:36

“And the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest goes in to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean, and afterwards the priest shall go in to see the house,”

The priest’s first step is to command them to empty the house, for anything that is in the house once it is declared unclean, will itself be unclean. The assumption is that the plague will not really yet have taken hold. It is a merciful provision. They may lose the house, but at least not their treasured possessions.

Leviticus 14:37-38

“And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague is in the walls of the house with hollow streaks, greenish or reddish, and its appearance is lower than the wall, then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days.”

The priest will then examine the house. This may well involve the scraping off of some of the plaster to see how deep the plague has gone, which again makes us realise why the possessions in the house needed to be removed lest they be defiled. Scraped plaster goes everywhere. The plague that is to be condemned is one that produces greenish or reddish hollow streaks and has penetrated below the surface (is ‘lower than the wall’). We do not know what exactly this was, but it was clearly something very unpleasant and no doubt with equally unpleasant effects.

If the priest found it he would lock or seal the door and the house would be shut up for seven days.

Leviticus 14:39-40

“And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look, and, behold, if the plague is spread in the walls of the house, then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which the plague is, and cast them into an unclean place outside the city,”

After seven days the priest will come to check the house again. If the plague has spread on the stones, all the affected stones are to be removed, and put in an unclean place outside the city, probably in this case a recognised rubbish dump.

We too need to examine our lives carefully, and must learn to be equally drastic with the sins that beguile us.

Leviticus 14:41

“And he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the mortar that they scrape off, outside the city into an unclean place,”

Then he will cause all the mortar on the walls inside the house to be scraped off, and that too will be taken to the unclean place outside the city. Later in Jerusalem it would be the Valley of Hinnom.

Leviticus 14:42

“And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other mortar, and shall plaster the house.”

After which the stones that have been taken out will be replaced with other stones, and the house will be replastered. The hope is that the plague has been got rid of by the drastic action taken. There has been a new rebuilding.

Leviticus 14:43-45

“And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after he has taken out the stones, and after he has scraped the house, and after it is plastered, then the priest shall come in and look, and, behold, if the plague is spread in the house, it is a fretting mould in the house, it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, its stones, and its timber, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place.”

But if the plague comes again after this thorough treatment it is clearly a spreading plague, and the house is therefore ‘unclean’. It is unsuited to the holiness of God or of Israel. The whole of the house from top to bottom is to be pulled down, broken up and carried to the tip outside the city in an unclean place.

Leviticus 14:46

“Moreover he who goes into the house all the while that it is shut up shall be unclean until the even.”

Moreover anyone who goes into the house while it is shut up will also be unclean, but only until the evening. The aim is to stop people going into it, lest in some way they are affected by the uncleanness of the house and carry it with them.

Leviticus 14:47

“And he who lies in the house shall wash his clothes, and he who eats in the house shall wash his clothes.”

And anyone who lies in the house or eats there is not only made unclean until the evening because they have entered the house, but must also wash their clothes. They have been affected by uncleanness, and must rid even their clothing of it. It would also be hygienically wise, but they did not know this.

Leviticus 14:48

“And if the priest shall come in, and look, and, behold, the plague has not spread in the house, after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed.”

But if the priest discovers on examination that his work has been successful, and that the plague has not spread after the replastering of the house, he will declare the house clean. It will mean that the plague is healed.

Leviticus 14:49-51

“And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water, and he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times.”

We note that for the house the ritual is only the initial part of that for the cleansing of a man or woman. There are no offerings made in the sanctuary in this case. There is no question here of guilt, or direct human sin. Nevertheless atonement has to be made demonstrating that as ever sin is lurking in the background.

The same procedure as before is carried through only this time it is the house that is sprinkled. It would seem probable that this was an ancient rite of purification.

Leviticus 14:52

“And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet,”

The combination of all parts of the ritual, each part being important, will successfully cleanse the house. It is now acceptable again for use by God’s holy nation without defiling them.

Leviticus 14:53

“But he shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open countryside, so shall he make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.”

Here the letting go of the living bird is again an essential part of the atoning work. The bird carries away all taint of uncleanness. Thus do we see the ritual for the house as very similar for that to the healed man. This would seem to stress the connection of this plagued house with sin. The plagued man and the plagued house are seen as especially tainted by sin to such an extent that this unusual treatment is required, almost parallel to that on the Day of Atonement.

We may note in this regard that a family were always described in terms of their ‘house’. Thus it would be simple for the Israelite to make a transference of thought. The idea of the plaguing of ‘houses’, signifying people, is used and described in Genesis 12:17. They could therefore see in these descriptions a hidden message that more than the stonework was in mind. They must watch their houses well, in both senses, or God would visit them with the plague.


Verses 54-57

Final Summary.

Leviticus 14:54-57

“This is the law for all manner of plague of leprous disease, even for an itch, and for the mould of a garment, and for a house, and for a lump, and for a scab, and for a bright spot, to teach when it is unclean, and when it is clean. This is the law of leprous disease.”

This reads like a colophon on a tablet, or as ending a series of tablets. It describes the contents of all the tablets containing the laws of uncleanness on these matters.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 14:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-14.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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